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Jim Landon On Children’s Memorial Garden: “This Is Very, Very Personal For Some of Us”

| July 12, 2011

The Children's Memorial Garden creates the sense of a pastoral sanctuary. (© FlaglerLive)

The Children’s Memorial Garden is possibly the most moving public space in Palm Coast. It is located along the Intracoastal Waterway, just north of Waterfront Park, along a path of its own, in the shade of mossy trees as if naturally bowed over the sanctuary below. Pavers mark the memory of children lost too soon, their names mingling with poetic lines: “We shed tears for what might have been,/a million times we’ve cried…” The garden draws its emotional effect from its modesty: there’s nothing ostentatious about it, nothing overt to obstruct reflection.

It is ironic that a place so pastoral and sorrowful has become the source of so much conflict. That conflict came to a head earlier today before the Palm Coast City Council, and provoked an extraordinary—and extraordinarily personal—reaction from City Manager Jim Landon.

The garden was a concept developed in 2009 by Ed Caroe, a brash and outspoken political old hand locally who often finds his way on advisory boards and politicians’ campaigns, and Bill Butler, the city’s landscape architect. Both men have lost a child prematurely. Both children are memorialized at the garden, which opened last year.

The site was selected because of its inherent beauty: it is close to virgin land, with little neighboring construction across the Intracoastal. But there’s a catch. The site is beautiful now. But it is not owned by Palm Coast, but rather by the Florida Inland Navigation District, which maintains the Intracoastal Waterway, and it is adjacent to a “Dredged Material Maintenance Area,” which may become as dreadful as it sounds, should the site be used for that purpose. That may not happen for years.

Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts is one of the navigation district’s 12 commissioners. It was through his intercession that the district leased the land for the garden, “with the very explicit understanding,” Netts explained today, “that if and when they would need the site relocated, it would be relocated by the city. At the city’s cost. Their concern was that these things would develop a life of their own, and that 20 years from now when FIND says we have to move it, there’s going to be this huge upcry and resistance and they’re not going to be able to fulfill their mission. We assured them now this is going to be small, it’s going to be quiet, passive and it’s not going to be a big deal to move it if we have to relocate it to some other site at some time in the future.”

In other words the modesty and pastoral nature of the memorial garden was as much by design as by necessity: the city has a conditional agreement with the navigation district not to turn the garden into a more entrenched installation with deep foundations.

Jim Landon

Here’s the conflict. Questions emerged about what constitutes a “child,” who would be eligible to be memorialized there, whether birth and death dates should be allowed on pavers or plaques in the ground, whether statues or sculptures should be allowed, whose sculptures might or might not be allowed, and under what standards. The city had developed none of those standards. Caroe, whose involvement in the development of the park gradually turned into a form of quasi ownership—to Landon’s annoyance—spent months trying to convince the city to go along with some standards, based on guidelines Netts had drafted last year. But some of the standards conflicted with the city administration’s management of the garden.

It turned into a personal conflict between Caroe and Landon, who opposes Caroe on several grounds: what goes on pavers should be at any family’s discretion, including dates. Sculptures should not be allowed from one individual if they’re not going to be allowed from others (Caroe wants to donate four bronze sculptures, at a cost of about $10,000, to the gardens), and the city should ultimately oversee the garden, not volunteers. That is, not Caroe.

About 20 minutes into the discussion, Landon spoke, revealing a profound personal loss that takes him back to Texas.

Audio: Jim Landon’s Reaction
(Poor Audio Is Due to City’s Web Feed)
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“This is going to be difficult for me to get through but I’ve determined I’m going to do this,” the city manager said. “First of all, you have an individual who’s trying to control, I’ll just say it, it’s Mr. Caroe, he’s tried to control it since day one, and he’s frustrated because it is a city park and we don’t go to him and ask, yes. If he has people he wants to help consult, and provide information and help with what’s on that plaque, or stone, great, no problem, he can do that. But my wife and I very likely are going to do this too. And I find it downright ludicrous, if not downright offensive, with the idea that I’ve got to go to any individual to determine what’s going to be on my paver. You want to know why those dates are important? The date that child was born, a very important date. The date she died–,” Landon paused, his voice breaking.

“When you’re out there, and you’re trying to remember, she’s 30 years old now, that date actually helps. I know, OK?,” Landon continued. “You don’t want it to look like a tombstone. I kind of agree with that. But for some of us we’ve got to get on a plane to go to some place that’s really special. We have people who would say, I would like to have a place where I can have those same kinds of memories, here locally, where I don’t have to get on a plane. And if that means putting on that stone what I want to put on the stone, as long as it’s not offensive to other people, why would you, anybody going to tell me I can’t put it on there. There are a number people out there already have the dates on them. Mr. Caroe’s son is one of them. So he gets to remember those important dates but I don’t? I think he’s asking city council to get in an arena that’s very personal, that’s very very painful, and why are we having to go through this instead of just having a nice, pleasant place for people to remember their child is beyond me. I don’t usually get this passionate and this personal, but this is very very personal for some of us, and you need to understand that getting into their personal business on this one is just not something I recommend you do.”

“I think this should not become a war of personalities,” Mayor Netts said, after other council members agreed that a clear policy should be written. The issue, Netts said, is how to fulfill the city’s obligation to the community for a memorial garden and to FIND to stay in line with the lease agreement. “It’s not an issue of what Mr. Caroe wants or what Mr. Landon wants or what Jon Netts wants or what Frank Meeker wants.”

But as often as not, personalities define policy—or lack of policies—and in this case the council was finding itself in the middle of two big personalities with a personal stake in the modest ground they both were trying to delineate their way.

“I’ve been misrepresented here by Mr. Landon quite a bit and I’m going out of my way not to do that back, but I’ve never tried to eliminate anybody,” Caroe said, when Netts allowed him to speak to the council. “What I’ve said is it’s awfully tough for younger people who lost a 2-year-old to a brain tumor, to look at something that says that date, birthday, that death date, that’s a kick in the gut. If it has the death date, fine, but both of them that says how old the person is, and it ruins them for people. And bereavement people who are professionals, and I can bring some in, will say that the younger people cannot be with the older people, it doesn’t work in a bereavement session.” He said he’d pushed for the Leisure Services Committee to have a say in this, and said he’d go along with any policy that would be set by the council.

“I’m not trying to run things, I’m trying to stop it from going in a direction that’s just going to run it downhill in my opinion,” Caroe continued, “and that solely comes down to the one thing, if you can figure out that that person was 56 years old, that really spoils children’s memorial garden. As Holsey said,” Caroe said, referring to council member Holsey Moorman, “if he died in 2009, I don’t care if he was 212. I don’t known when he was born. Not a problem. I hope you go in that direction.”

The 40-minute discussion did not clarify matters. It’s not clear where the council stands on sculptures and statues. It’s not clear where it stands on dates or ages. “Would it be appropriate for my mother at 95 to have a paver for her daughter that died at age 66 of cancer, because that was her child?,” council member Frank Meeker asked.  “I understand that that’s my mother’s child, but when I think of a children’s memorial—it’s not a child’s memorial park, it’s a children’s memorial park, and in my mind I have a loose definition of children.”

The council referred the matter to its leisure committee and staff to develop standards and, presumably, a policy. Later in the day, Netts said the matter may actually be referred to the city’s beautification advisory board, which spent several months last year discussing standards for public art and statuary in public places, and may be better positioned to handle the matter.

The council then moved on to more temporal matters.

ed caroe memorial garden

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14 Responses for “Jim Landon On Children’s Memorial Garden: “This Is Very, Very Personal For Some of Us””

  1. palmcoaster says:

    In this issue I am with City Manager Landon. Let the memorial stones to reflect both dates to the wish of the parent or not, as currently allowed. Enough pain was endured by these parents over the loss of a child, no matter at what age they were. They are forever our children in our hearts. So please Mr. Caroe stop your campaign. Along the park we have seating donated in memory of adults that passed and we never questioned …due to well deserved respect. What about some neighborly compassion among each other?
    Regarding the estatues proposed by Mr. Caroe will require additional maintenance and may create a liability, lets keep it as simple as is now.

  2. T says:

    These are deeply personal issues and government has NO place getting involved with these sensitive issues.

  3. tulip says:

    I have visited this lovely place and Mr. Caroe should be appreciated for creating such an idea. It is my understanding that this was in dedication and memory to YOUNG children who were taken away from their parents way to soon. This is the way it should remain.

    Putting in a lot of statues and things can give it a “cemetary” look and I think it would ruin the simple bilissfulness of the place—-a simple blissfulness that a young child exudes. To those who donated benches—-what a perfect gift .

    Yes, adults that have died are/were someone’s “child” but I think in this instance CHILD means a very young person and the place should remain that way for THEM.

    If someone wants want an “adult memorial”, let them make one somewhere, just like Mr. Caroe did.

    I am very saddened and ashamed over what this has turned into amongst officials and residents.

  4. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Butting heads and power plays — what a disgusting spectacle.

  5. Anita says:

    I agree with T in this. This is highly personal. We established a small family memorial in our backyard garden when our grandson was deployed. We’ve kept it since his return and we enjoy what it means to us. However, it doesn’t require taxpayer assistance if we need to relocate it and we can visit it 24/7, should we want to. Take an area of your garden and use it for that purpose, then there’s no need for judgment or hurt feelings.

  6. Liana G says:

    @ tulip

    I agree with you and thank you for expressingy it so beautifully.

  7. W.Ryan says:

    At this time I take no sides. I’m just touched that people have this site for this purpose!!! Masterfully explained and well written.

  8. Kendall says:

    My friend that lost her son at age 26 feels no more or less pain than someone that lost their son or daughter as a minor child.

    What’s next- will the type of death have to be approved as well? Will the suicide of a pre teen not qualify for the children’s memorial because it’s not serene and becoming to children’s memorial?

    There is nothing serene or becoming about losing a child, no matter how old the child is. They are our babies until the day WE die. Nobody deserves to grieve more or less publicly because of the age of their deceased child.

    If a family is willing to put a memorial there for their lost child, so long as they understand the memorial might someday be moved- and it fits into the visual constraints established by the city, let them.

  9. Liana G says:

    Every person is someone’s child.

    Several years ago I visited a state garden in Athens, GA, and part of the garden was dedicated to children. Throughout this garden, there were 3 to 4 feet sculptures of children jumping rope, cartwheeling, standing on tippytoes drinking from a water fountain. And some were of a little child sitting quietly reading a book with her dog beside her, another sitting perfectly still with a butterfly sitting on her outstretched finger. How many of us remember doing any of these as a child?

    For many of us, we like to reminisce and recapture wonderful memories of our childhood. Many of the things we do with our own kids are things we have done and enjoyed as children and we want to share them and have our kids enjoy the experiences.

    This garden should be for those children who not only never got to experience those enjoyments but whose parents never got to share it with them. Let it be this way.

  10. tulip says:

    LIANA—Nicely said, and I believe that was one the reasons Mr. Caroe made that special place.

  11. Monica says:

    Our 24 year old son died in August 2007. His death was and is still devastating to us and our family. Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children. We know this is not reality. We were so touched to hear of the Children’s Memorial Garden. We could have a beautiful, peaceful place to honor his memory. We called to ask if we could purchase a paver for our son as he was 24 years old when he died. He was and will always be our CHILD. We were told yes, of course. We chose to use his birth and death dates. We visit the Garden often. It brings us comfort to have a place where we can see his name etched in such a natural setting, where his name will not be forgotten. This Garden also reminds brokenhearted parents, that they are not alone in their grief.

  12. palmcoaster says:

    To Monica my deepest sympathy on the untimely loss of your beloved child.
    The remembrance of his life will be forever present in your hearts, as well as in the special place of our Palm Coast Water Front Park, cradle by the embracing towering oaks and the lively humming of the dwelling birds. Like Kendall says, lets not deny the placement of their child memorial to any grieving parent that wishes to do so, on the park. Please…?.

  13. A Mother says:

    I certainly don’t mean to come off as insensitive here, but I believe Mr Caroe’s purpose in having a children’s memorial garden is to capture the innocence and purity of children found specially in their childhood years.

    Below are several stories that individuals, someone else’s child, committed at various ages that really makes the word “child” evoke images of innocence and purity. And even though this is heartbreaking, we have to acknowledge these possibilities.

    Left, murder victim Seath Tyler Jackson, 15, is shown in an undated Facebook photo. Right, Amber Wright, 15, charged with first-degree murder in the case is shown here in her Marion County booking photo. (Facebook; Marion County Sheriff’s Office)

    The two teenagers who killed 13 people and themselves at suburban Denver’s Columbine High School 10 years ago next week weren’t in the “Trenchcoat Mafia,” disaffected videogamers who wore cowboy dusters. The killings ignited a national debate over bullying, but the record now shows Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold hadn’t been bullied — in fact, they had bragged in diaries about picking on freshmen and “fags.”

    Timothy James McVeigh (April 23, 1968 – June 11, 2001) was a United States Army veteran and security guard who became infamous for detonating a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. [He was 27 years old at the time]

  14. peggy says:

    It matters not what the age of the child is. Have u lost a child, tulip? Mr Caroe, did not make the park. He had an idea, but the people of palm coast paid for the dream by signing a contract to move the memorial park if necessary. I have sympathy for mr. caroe, but any one who loses a child AT ANY AGE, has my sympathy as well. Mr. Caroe, i believe is the ONE who want to put statuary on the grounds of the memorial park. that should not be allowed. No one is more important than another, whether in life or death.

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